Review Summary: Don’t take the bland and boring moniker seriously; Fair is much better than its name.
If you’re familiar with the bands of Tooth & Nail Records, chances are you are also familiar with Seattle producer Aaron Sprinkle – you probably just don’t know it yet, unless you’re a liner notes junkie. Having helmed scores of T&N records from the likes of Anberlin, Demon Hunter, Emery, The Almost, MxPx, and Project 86, as well as credits on records from Gatsbys American Dream, Eisley, and Acceptance, Sprinkle has been one of the more underrated producers in the indie scene for a few years now. Prior to forming the alternative rock act Fair, however, his production tendencies had seemed at odds with his own previous solo material and bands, Poor Old Lu and Rose Blossom Punch. Where Sprinkle the artist seemed to prefer sparse and raw production, Sprinkle the producer gained a reputation for creating big walls of sound that gleamed with a glossy finish – but occasionally seemed soulless.
His latest project, Fair, is certainly slickly and expertly handled – you would expect nothing less from a guy whose name seems to appear on the back cover of every third album at Best Buy – but on The Best Worst-Case Scenario
, Sprinkle avoids unnecessary bells-and-whistles that would threaten to detract from a beautiful yet bittersweet musical landscape. And, really, no studio magic is needed here, because Sprinkle again shows his gift for writing seemingly laid-back melodies that nonetheless capture the listener’s attention. Though it be docile, The Best Worst-Case Scenario
’s best moments are far more interesting and rewarding than run-of-the-mill angst-ridden bands of the present.
Drawing inspiration from the intermittently beautiful-and-depressing Pacific Northwest, Fair could be best be described as a streamlined version of The Decemberists or The Shins. The Best Worst-Case Scenario
lacks the former’s penchant for folksy storytelling and you probably won’t overhear Natalie Portman tell Zach Braff that Fair will change your life. Like The Shins and The Decemberists, however, Sprinkle and Co. craft melodies that manage to find the underlying sadness/uncertainty in an optimistic situation or the glimmer of hope in trying times. Fair is able to achieve this multi-faceted nature without coming off as heavy-handed or overly earnest; the moodiness of the album all seems very natural and honest.
The beauty of The Best Worst-Case Scenario
lies in its simplicity – some bands effectively stir emotion in the listener through chaotic riffing and desperate vocals, but Fair is able to get their point across in subdued tones and straightforward melodies. The simple two-note melody of “The Attic” and Sprinkle’s laid-back chorus of “Don’t leave me behind, don’t leave me alone; for I just may recall what brought me here
” doesn’t quite stir an adrenaline rush, but it is nonetheless surprisingly powerful. And even without heavy distortion or awe-inspiring technicality, Sprinkle’s piercing guitar, such as on “The Dumbfound Game” and “Pause,” strikes a deep emotional chord.
All the while, Sprinkle’s vocals are calm and in control, yet also hint at lingering emotions underneath. While some tracks on The Best Worst-Case Scenario
fail to stir any sentiment (“Get You Out Alive”), for the most part, the album’s less-is-more philosophy works very well. Perhaps the only legitimate complaint with the album is that Fair seems capable of producing a masterwork; and The Best Worst-Case Scenario
, consisting mostly of 3 ½ to 4 minute singles, never appears to have that goal in mind.
But what The Best Worst-Case Scenario
does accomplish, however, is impressive in and of itself. Through a clean and unpretentious alternative rock soundtrack, Aaron Sprinkle and Fair have created a moving album about the complexities of everyday human life. Don’t take the bland and boring moniker seriously; Fair is much better than its name.
The Dumbfound Game